Final bodywork and paint on a '66 Mustang convertible
Story and photos By Brian Earnest
Leonard Schrock jokes that he can’t block sand, paint and buff “all day like I used to be able to. I could just go for hours and never get tired.” After 36 years in the bodywork and auto restoration business, aches and pains can creep up on a guy.
Still, Schrock insists he’s able to do bodywork and paint projects better and faster these than he’s ever done them before. A large part of his efficiency is his thousands of hours of experience, of course, but he insists it’s almost equally due to modern technology.
Better tools. Better science. Better materials.
“We aim to get projects done and cars out of here in six weeks,” said Schrock, the shop manager at Kasper Automotive, a bustling old car restoration shop in Waupaca,Wis. “The quality still has to be there, of course, and it is. We can just do things so much faster than in the past.”
Recently, Old Cars Weekly caught up with Leonard Schrock and his son Shawn as they tackled the final bodywork and paint on a 1966 Mustang convertible. The car had its share of issues when it showed up in the shop, but the ace father-son team finished the car off in textbook style, using the best in modern techniques and equipment, and some good old-fashioned know-how and elbow grease.
The subject car
The Schrocks were actually forced to “un-do” some previous restoration work that had been done on the Mustang ragtop. The car had been given some bodywork attention in the past and a new Emberglo — copper color — paint job, but the results were less than stellar.
“It was a car that had somebody take a grinder to it to strip it and, of course, anybody that does bodywork knows that digs deep into the metal, and it also warps it, so we saved every panel on here by massaging them,” Schrock said. “That [grinder] was a big no-no … It was a father-son deal that tried to do the work themselves, and they made a lot more work than if they had left it alone.
“We stripped all the paint and made sure we had no rust. Somebody had actually done the bodywork on it before and there wasn’t much rust to worry about.”
Stripping and epoxy
The Schrocks get right to work getting a car apart and getting down to bare metal. It’s job one when doing a bodywork and paint project. The existing paint is immediately sanded down and the car is quickly given a new coat of epoxy sealer to prevent any rust from starting while the car is worked on. “[A big mistake] I see everybody do is they strip a car down to bare metal and they think it’s OK to leave it inside for months and months, but a vehicle will start to rust within minutes after you strip them down,” Leonard noted.
“People will push the vehicle all the time bare-handed, and a week later we’ll see those hand prints. It’s that human oil from you that starts them rusting again.
“It’s really important that once you do strip them down, we get into a rust-inhibitor or epoxy of some kind really quick. Once we have it there, we can let them sit and not worry about them.”
The pair don’t move on to any other work until they get the rust-inhibitor on a bare body. “Within the hour — the quicker we can do it the better,” Leonard said. “If we’re stripping a car, we’ll start with that back end and we’ll wipe just the back end down when we have it stripped and we’ll start putting our epoxy on it right away. Then once that’s dry we’ll start working into the rest of the car.”
Bodywork on the pony
The Schrocks wrestled with various imperfections on the body of the Mustang, many of them a result of the warping caused by ill-advised grinding that had been done in the past.
Putty helped smooth out the flat surfaces in some spots, and there were also a few bad spots along the trunk and doors that had to be patched with fiberglass filler.
Shawn Schrock carefully fixed a bad edge along the top of the passenger-side door, first welding in a metal patch, then finishing the repair with a layer of fiberglass filler, followed by putty and then finishing glaze. “The short-strand fiberglass filler, you use over fabrication. When I weld, that’s the only time I’ll use the fiberglass,” he said.
“Usually when you go to your bodywork in those areas, the first thing you go to is your fiberglass, and you rough that in. Then you go up to your body fillers … and then from there is your final glazing. I’ll use my glazing over the top and stop at about 180-grit, and then I’m ready for primer.
“The fiberglass is a lot stronger than your putty or ‘Bond-O’ … Where you would not use fiberglass and just use putty is if you’re replacing a dent or something like that. The only time I’m using the fiberglass is if I’m welding … If I’m not welding the area, I’ll go to just the putty, then go to the glaze and the primer.”
The younger Schrock took a similar approach to a bad lip along the trunk opening, just above the passenger side tail lamp. “They had a rust hole and I ended up fabricating a piece of metal and welding it in, and adjusting my weld with a 36-grit on a die-grinder to smooth it out,” he said. “Then I go in and fiberglass that and go with 36-grit to smooth that, then go to putty. I 80-grit that and then put the finishing glaze over that and feather it back to 180 or 320 with a D/A [sander] and then it’s ready for primer.…
“It’s the proper way to do it. You’ll have a lot of guys argue over the proper way, but I’ve done it for years. I’m certified and it’s the textbook way of doing it.”
Even at a young age, Shawn learned that bodywork is no place to rush or cut corners.
“Anytime you do any type of bodywork involving body filler, you want to go straight to bare metal,” he said. “If you are doing it over any painted surface or clearcoat, what it will tend to do is that product underneath there will suck back and tend to shrink it. You might have perfect bodywork, but a couple years down the road, you’ll see a slight wave there and that’s because your material actually sucks in the material you added to that panel. The big, big thing is the preparation of your body panel. You can be the world’s best body man, but if you don’t prep your panel right, it’s going to come back on you.”
Gaps and panel alignment
The Schrocks agreed that panel alignment is often where do-it-yourselfers run into to the most problems. Getting the proper gaps along doors, trunks and hoods isn’t as easy as many amateurs think it will be, especially if the car has alignment problems elsewhere.
“What they don’t understand is hanging quarters and getting gaps right — that’s the biggest mistake I see,” Leonard said. “One thing we do that saves a lot of time and helps beginners is we dry-fit everything. Even as much as we do them, we’ll take a quarter and put some self-tapper screws in them and zap it into the body so it’s held there, and then we make sure the doors and trunk shut nice and everything is good … Once you’ve got everything where you want it, those self-tapper screws act as a guide. Then you zip those screws in and you’re ready to weld …
“Once we have the quarters in place, we hang the doors to make sure we have a good gap, and make our fenders work from there. The common mistake I see is guys put a panel on and they are fighting everything from there. Another thing we do is when we are doing trunks and doors is we pull the latches off, that way you are not fighting another object in there. If you can shut a hood and you have good gaps all the way around with latches on there, it’s a lot easier to move that latch and put it where you want it. But if you try to take that hood that’s bolted to the hinges, then you’ve got two or three obstacles that are fighting you. It’s a lot easier if you just eliminate one of those obstacles.
“We simplify everything.”
Preparing for paint
After the bodywork has been finished and the proper gaps achieved, the Mustang gets a final blocking and then a coat of primer. The car is sanded with 320-grit before final primer, and 400- and/or 600-grits after.
Before blocking, the Mustang was primed with a dark primer underneath and a lighter coat of primer on top of that. “We have that guide coat underneath,” Leonard said. “The color should be pretty uniform all the way through when we’re done, and it should be fairly straight and smooth… The guide coat is just a visual aid for us.
“Then we’ll blow the whole car off and take a wax and grease remover and that will give us the effect of a paint job and we can look at our panels and see if they are how we want them. That way we’re not wasting color.”
In the paint booth
The Mustang was given a coat of black sealer underneath prior to paint. This was by design, and a different color sealer might have been used if the owner had opted for a different paint color.
“If you want the color to stay darker and not as vibrant, we put a darker sealer under it (black). If we wanted to get a lighter color with a little more pop and brightness, we’d put more of a gray sealer under it,” Leonard noted.
From there, the Mustang gets three coats of polyurethane paint, and three coats of clear, in rapid succession. The painting is done in Kasper’s modern climate-controlled paint booth at a temperature of 78 degrees, which shortens the wait time between coats to between 5 and 10 minutes.
The first two coats of color go on “heavy and wet,” Leonard noted, with the final coat applied more sparingly. He’s heard the lectures extolling the virtues of more coats of paint, but Schrock doesn’t buy them. In the case of automotive paint, more is not better he insists. Actually, the opposite is true.
“From everything I’ve been taught and learned, they’ve always told me the least amount of color I can put on it, the more durable a paint job’s going to be. You get these guys telling you’ve they’re putting on 5 to 8 coats of color — that’s way too much. You should try to stay in the two to three range.
“You have guys tell you they done 32 coats of paint and hand buffed it between each coat, and I’ve done them that way, and done it this way, and believe me, there is no difference in the end result, just a lot of lost time.”
The Mustang receives a metallic paint, which can present its own set of problems. Metallics can be notoriously temperamental and difficult for amateur painters, and Leonard Schrock concurred.
“On this one, it’s an older color and to give it more of a pop and more of a modern sparkle to it, we lay down our last coat, which is a guide lockdown coat, we lay it down drier” he said. “What that does is it stands up our metallic better and when we clear it, when the sun hits it we’ll get more of a sparkle to it.
“One of the common, common things is guys spraying the metallics — they get the mottling and the zebra striping. ...They are tilting the gun too much or they don’t have the proper adjustment with the gun, so it’s shooting too much on the top and bottom, and you wind up with stripes down the side. With mottling, it’s the same thing — you get the blotchy spots. You see even a lot of the modern cars that come from the manufacturers, you see a lot of the silvers and golds that are real blotchy. The base coat-clear coat system does help prevent that, but it’s still possible to do it and it does happen.
“The thing is, there are guys that can paint, I see a lot of them, but when it gets to the metallics it gets tricky and they’re not used to doing that and they get different effects. It’s a lot tougher and it takes a better painter, usually, to understand it.”
After the third layer of clear goes on, Shawn Schrock sprays three layers of clear in quick succession. Similar to the color, the first two layers are heavier than the top layer. The key at this point, according to the Schrocks, is not to get carried away and run the clear.
“You can screw it up, absolutely. The base coat is like the old paint system lacquers. You can still run ’em, but it’s harder now because they dry fast. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, yeah, you’ll run ’em.”
Using top-shelf materials is key at this step, Leonard insisted. If you are going to go cheap anywhere along the line during a restoration project, don’t do it with the clear. “The biggest thing I tell our customers is when it comes to clear, don’t cut corners. You’ll see it in the end result,” he said. “You’ll get some guys who say I can buy a gallon of clear for $75 from so-and-so. Our stuff here, we’re paying $350 for a sprayable gallon. But this stuff here is the reason we can buff quick and do everything else faster. It’s because of the product. One coat of this clear is equivalent to two coats of the cheap clear, but this is how you get that high, high-quality finish and that reflection.”
Once the clear has cured, the Mustang is given a 20-minute bake at 160 degrees in the booth. From there, the Shrocks will use 1,500-grit wet-dry paper for final sanding. They forgo the traditional final wet sanding in favor of buffing — a definite departure from past conventional wisdom.
“In the old days you’d take 600- or even 1,000-grit and wet sand the whole car and then come back and buff it. The problem with doing that is you better have a lot of time,” Leonard concluded.
“We can usually take two guys on buffers and within four and a half, five yours we’ve got the car completely buffed, polished and ready to go.”